By Susie Bramhall
Photography Credits: NORAD Tracks Santa, Tech. Sgt. Thomas Doscher, Staff Sgt. Alexandra Longfellow, Dennis Carlyle
It’s the most magical time of the year! Twinkling lights, freshly fallen snow, and a season full of holiday cheer. But the magic is like none other, come the eve of December 24, when Santa and his reindeer take off in a sleigh full of toys for the adventure of a lifetime…all over the world.
A family tradition, going on 66 years, adults and kids alike have enjoyed following Santa along his journey on the NORAD Tracks Santa website. They can even go along for the ride through the NTS app, as well. With a global audience, the website is available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.
As a partner of the NTS team, Snowy the Mouse was thrilled to have the opportunity to sit down with Preston Schlachter, the NORAD Tracks Santa Program Manager, to discuss how this wonderful tradition started, what people can find on the NTS website, and even some some special holiday traditions celebrated by Preston and his family.
STM: Thank you for joining us Preston! Please tell us, how long have you been involved with NORAD and what made you join the team?
SCHLACHTER: I’ve been involved with the NORAD Tracks Santa program since 2013.
STM: NORAD Tracks Santa is a wonderful worldwide family tradition; however, can you tell me how the story of how the NTS tradition actually started and how many years the tradition has been going?
SCHLACHTER: NORAD has been tracking Santa since 1955 when a young child dialed the misprinted phone number from a department store advertisement in the local newspaper. That phone number rang into the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The operations center director was quick to realize a mistake had been made, and assured the youngster that he was Santa. And so began the affiliation of NORAD and Santa that has come an annual tradition and continued when NORAD was formed in 1958. Each year since, NORAD has dutifully reported Santa’s location on December 24th to millions of children and families across the globe.
STM: Everyone I know loves the NORAD Tracks Santa website. How many people actually follow the NTS program in December?
SCHLACHTER: It’s hard to say for sure, but if you tallied all the phone calls, website users, app downloads, social media followers, and queries submitted through OnStar and Amazon Alexa, we would easily have tens of millions of followers.
STM: Besides tracking Santa’s wonderful adventures on December 24th all over the world, what are some other fun things people will find on the NTS website this coming season?
SCHLACHTER: The website will be available to enjoy on December 1st, and has so many great facets that it is hard to name them all. In addition to counting down to the moment Santa takes off from the North Pole, our website has lots of fun features, like games, holiday music, and links to all our social media pages. You can learn about NORAD and how we track Santa. There is also a webstore where you can buy official NORAD Tracks Santa merchandise. All these features are also available on our mobile apps, as well.
STM: Wow…that’s fantastic! It must be a huge job to put this all together! Please give us an idea of how many people contribute to the NORAD Tracks Santa’s success each year. Are there any special traditions at the NTS headquarters on the 24th?
SCHLACHTER: One of the things I love the most about this program is the amazing team of teams that volunteer their time and skills to bring the NORAD Tracks Santa program to life every year since 1955.
We have teams of corporate and government contributors that work a wide range of aspects of the program well before we actually track Santa on December 24th, and we absolutely could not do the program without them.
Then on the “big day, ”NORAD Tracks Santa is supported by a robust team of active duty, reservists, and civilians who work for NORAD. We typically have more than 1,500 Canadian and American uniformed personnel, DOD civilians, and members of the community that volunteer their time on December 24th to answer thousands of phone calls that flood in from around the world.
STM: What a wonderful group of volunteers! So tell me, in one word, what has been the most positive thing that has impacted you from working with the NTS program.
SCHLACHTER: Tradition! Not just because the program is 66 years old, but the fact that the program has been a part of family traditions for generations. People that tracked Santa as a kid, when the program first started, are now sharing the fun with their grandkids. That’s amazing!
STM: So, what about you personally, Preston…do you have any family traditions that you celebrate each year during the holidays?
SCHLACHTER: We always look forward to putting up the tree in the living room and lights around the house. Since I started working with the program, my family also volunteers to answer calls in the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center. It is something we look forward to doing every year, sharing the fun and funny questions we answered.
STM: So on to a few holiday favorites…do you have a special recipe that you make each holiday?
SCHLACHTER: One of my favorite holiday foods is Cabernet Cranberry Sauce. (see recipe below)
STM: It sounds delicious! How about your favorite holiday song?
SCHLACHTER: Must Be Santa by Brave Combo
STM: And your favorite holiday TV show or movie?
SCHLACHTER: There are so many great movies, but Elf tops the list.
STM: And, please share…what is it about the holidays that inspires you?
SCHLACHTER: The gathering of friends and family, and the general sense of gratitude and generosity that comes out around the holidays.
What is your favorite Christmas cookie?
Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Kiss Cookies
Preston's Cabernet Cranberry Sauce
Celebrate the flavors of the season with this delicious cranberry sauce that will be perfect for any holiday menu!
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup Cabernet wine (or your favorite red wine)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 cinnamon stick
12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup ice cold water
1.Add sugar to a large sauce pan. Pour in the orange juice, wine, zest, cinnamon stick, and spices. Bring that up to a simmer on MEDIUM heat.
2.When it’s simmering, add the cranberries. Bring back up to a simmer and the berries will start to pop. Simmer for 10 to12 minutes. The sauce will start to thicken and the berries will have all popped and collapsed.
3.Add the water and remove from heat. Take out the cinnamon stick. As the sauce cools, it will continue to thicken. Cool to room temperature, stir and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Thank you to Preston Schlachter for his wonderful insight into the NORAD Tracks Santa program and for sharing some of his own holiday traditions!
To follow Santa on his holiday adventures this December, go to www.noradsanta.org
Plus, click below to follow NORAD Tracks Santa on these social media platforms: